ATHENS – As a result of a proactive undercover investigation coordinated by the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes Unit, the Athens-Clarke County Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia, and the Athens-Clarke County District Attorney’s Office, nine people were arrested over a three-day period beginning Thursday OF LAST WEEK. Those arrested were charged with O.C.G.A. 16-12-100.2, THE Computer or Electronic Pornography and Child Exploitation Prevention Act of 2007.
“Operation End Game” was a three-day effort centered in Athens. The operation took several months of planning. Those arrested, who range in age from 19 to 53, traveled from areas around Northeast Georgia with the intent to meet a child for sex. One person who was arrested was a convicted murderer who had completed his sentence. One person was arrested in possession of a firearm and a machete. Thirteen mobile phones were seized as evidence during the operation.
The goal of “Operation End Game” was to arrest persons who communicate with children online and then travel to meet them for the purpose of having sex. Additionally, the operation targeted those who are willing to exploit children by purchasing sex with a minor. Online child predators visit chat rooms and websites on the internet, find children, begin conversations with them, introduce sexual content and arrange a meeting with the children for the purpose of having sex. The children these predators target are both boys and girls. Since 2014, the Georgia ICAC Task Force has arrested more than 130 people in similar operations.
Over the course of the operation, more than 25 cases were established that met the threshold for arrest, and nine of those cases were concluded with arrests. During the multiday operation, investigators had more than 200 exchanges with subjects on various social media or internet platforms. Many of those were exchanges in which the subject initiated contact with someone they believed to be a minor and directed the conversation towards sex. About half of the exchanges involved websites used for dating, socializing or even websites used for classified advertisements.
Although some websites promote themselves as being for “adults-only” it is not uncommon for law enforcement to work cases in which children access these sites, establish profiles claiming to be older, and then find themselves vulnerable to victimization, harassment, blackmail, or assault.
Along with those agencies who participated in the planning and coordinating of the operation, 10 additional law enforcement agencies participated in “Operation End Game” as members of the Georgia ICAC Task Force. These agencies were the Alpharetta Police Department, Clarke County Sheriff’s Office, Floyd County Police Department, Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, GBI-Georgia Information Sharing and Analysis Center, Gwinnett County Police Department, Hall County Sheriff’s Office, Lilburn Police Department, Polk County Police Department and Savannah Police Department.
“The ACCPD is proud to partner with the FBI, GBI and other federal, state, and local area law enforcement agencies in these continuing efforts to identify and apprehend those who prey on our most vulnerable victims," Athens-Clarke County Police Chief Cleveland Spruill said in a GBI news release. "Thanks to this coordinated three-day effort, multiple predators have been removed from our streets and are no longer free to victimize our children.”
"The Athens-Clarke County Police Department is one of our most active member agencies," GBI Special Agent in Charge and Commander of the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, Debbie Garner, remarked. "We appreciate their daily efforts to combat child exploitation. This type of cooperation and collaboration is invaluable in the effort to keep our children safe from predators who seek to harm them. This successful operation was a true partnership between all the agencies involved. We will continue to aggressively work together to protect our children.”
The following were arrested and charged in Clarke County as part of the operation:
1. Morgan Andrews, W/M, Maxeys, 27, mold repair technician;
2. Joseph Kelly, W/M, 44, Statham, assembly line worker;
3. James Morriss Jr., W/M, Dacula, 49, sales representative;
4. Andrew Schafer, W/M, Winder, 53, project manager;
5. Deointe Sims, B/M, Athens, 25, assembly line worker;
6. Fredrick Smith, B/M, Royston, 29, fast food/food delivery service employee;
7. Michael Turner, B/M, Covington, 46, shipping/receiving employee;
8. Zachary Turner, B/M, Colbert, 19, unemployed;
9. Noe Villafuerte, H/M, Winterville, 44, landscaper.
The Georgia ICAC Task Force comprises 240-plus local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, other related criminal justice agencies and prosecutor’s offices. The mission of the ICAC Task Force, created by the U. S. Department of Justice and managed and operated by the GBI in Georgia, is to assist state and local law enforcement agencies in developing an effective response to cyber enticement and child pornography cases. Arrests made by the Georgia ICAC Task Force have been steadily increasing over the last three years. The task force made 244 arrests in 2015, and 340 in 2016. In 2017, the Georgia ICAC Task Force made 350 arrests and made 307 arrests in 2018. The task force has made more than 2,000 arrests since its inception in 2002.